War on coal? Local congressmen blast White House plans to cut carbon pollution

News-DemocratJune 25, 2013 

U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville.

BND

The metro-east's three-man congressional delegation slammed President Barack Obama's plans -- announced Tuesday afternoon -- to make sharp cuts in carbon emissions by using the federal Environmental Protection Agency to impose tougher restrictions on coal-fired power plants.

U.S. Reps. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville; John Shimkus, R-Collinsville; and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville harshly criticized the stricter rules proposed by Obama as job-killers that will needllessly spike electricity costs for consumer.

Enyart "will work tirelessly" against new mandates "that will increase energy costs, and decimate our Southern Illinois coal industry in the process," according to a statement issued by Enyart, who represents the 12th Congressional District, whose 12 counties once comprised the Illinois coal industry's heart.

Coal continues to be the single largest source for America's electricity supply, Enyart said.

Shimkus and Davis, echoed Enyart's criticism of Obama's proposed crackdown on the burning of coal in America's power plants.

"Regulations already being touted by EPA will cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs," Shimkus said in a written statement.

Obama proposed restrictions "that will hurt Southern Illinois by closing mines and causing electricity rates to rise," Shimkus added. "There is no way this is helpful to the economy of our nation."

Davis called it "no surprise" Obama plans to continue "the war on coal he started from the moment he was sworn in four years ago."

Davis noted that the coal industry employs thousands of workers in his district, the 13th. Davis said Obama's plan "could have disastrous consequences for our local economy and cost Illinois families their jobs, especially in areas still experiencing extremely high unemployment rates."

During a speech at Georgetown University, Obama proposed a strategy aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions -- the leading greenhouse gas linked to climate change -- promoting renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and preparing the nation for the major impacts of climate change.

These impacts rising sea levels, drought and more intense coastal storms, according to climate scientists.

Obama's strategy for dealing with climate change drew a wide range of responses.

Tom Voss, the president and CEO of Ameren Corp., which owns Ameren Illinois, issued a statement in which he stated that Ameren looks forward to working with the White House and state and federal officials.

Voss said he hoped to see "put in place thoughtful energy policies that will enable a sensible transition to a cleaner generation portfolio over time."

Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, decried Obama's climate change initiative, contending it will cost coal industry jobs at a time when the industry is rebounding as a result of exports overseas. Last year, the state coal industry employed 4,000 workers and extracted 46 million tons of coal.

"I think one of the troubling aspects of this is that what the president is doing here administratively is something he couldn't get through Congress," Gonet said.

Dale Wojtkowski, the chair of the Sierra Club's Kaskaskia group, praised some aspects of the initiative, including the chance to create green jobs.

"I think potentially trying to combat carbon pollutoin gives us an opportnity to be job-creating rather job-kiling," Wojtkowksi said. "It should open avenues to more of the alternate energy avenues, suuch as wind and solar."

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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